What does your heart desire?

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

A desire is defined as a “strong want or wish.” An even deeper meaning is to have such a longing for or yearning for something that everything else dims in comparison and the pull created by the desire shifts everything in life toward it. It can cause some very positive reactions in people to work toward a desire despite challenging odds or it can create some very distorted actions to get those desires met. 

These desires might include power, influence/significance, acceptance, challenge, curiosity, order, safety, honor, competence, fun/playfulness, connection, community, status, and peace. There are many more ways to describe these deep longings but this gives a simple list to focus on. 

Ask yourself what is the yearning of your heart and how do I get that desire met? Is this a healthy or unhealthy means to a legitimate end? Who provides this for me and how do I provide it to others? 

It is easy to focus on the emotions that accompany these desires or even more frequently, to focus on the behaviors they produce. All behavior, to one degree or another, is driven by a deeper desire. What does your behavior or the behavior of your children/family reveal to you about the desires of the heart? 

After you have made this internal inventory, ask yourself how you can met or get this desire met in a healthy way that will eliminate the inappropriate feelings and behaviors?

For example, a parent may be dealing with a defiant teenager who desires power, independence or competence. How can a parent help met that need in a way that is agreeable to both parent and child? Can more choices be offered or freedom allowed or rules re-negotiated? Address these desires in your heart in reaction to their yearnings: “I need to feel safe and honored in order to give your your desires” and vice versa. 

Try this for a week or two and see what difference it makes in your family?

» Need more help on clarifying your desires and finding real answers to life problems and parenting issues? Contact Ron Huxley today at

Teen Conflict Spillover

Parents of teens probably know this all too well. A conflict at home can mean sending your teen out the door in a funk, which can spur negative interactions outside of the home. Conversely, teens can come in the door having had a conflict with a friend and that means anyone in his or her path is in for it, too. This dynamic is what a recent study in the journal Child Development studied.

Chung and colleagues set out to examine whether or not there was spillover between conflict with parents/family and conflict with peers. As one may guess, the researchers found that when teens had a conflict with a parent or other family member they were more likely to report having a conflict with a peer, and vice versa. They referred to this phenomenon as “spillover”.

The authors discuss spillover in the context of a “transmission of negative emotions” and an extreme and negative quality that can color the adolescent emotional experience. Teens simply experience emotions with an intensity that is specific to being a teenager. With all of the changes that teens go through (remember puberty?), it would make sense that they would experience some fierce emotions.

The authors collected daily diary entries for two weeks from over 500 ninth-grade males and females from diverse backgrounds. Study participants reported on family and peer conflict, as well as emotional distress. Because the entries were subjective, the results certainly need to be interpreted within the framework of perception. That is, the diaries were the information that the teens reported to be their experiences. Asking someone else could have potentially offered different information.

In each situation of conflict, same predicted same at the highest rates. In other words, peer conflict predicted peer conflict more than family conflict predicted it. Conversely, family conflict predicted family conflict at a higher rate than peer conflict predicted it.

Although the effects were smaller, family conflict still significantly predicted same-day and next-day peer conflict. Interestingly, it also significantly predicted peer conflict two days later. Now that’s some spillover! Peer conflict significantly predicted same-day and next-day family conflict. Effects were stronger for girls than for boys and girls reported the experience of arguing with family members as being more stressful than arguing with peers.

Nobody suggests that parenting a teen is a walk in the park. On the contrary, it is a challenging time for both parent and teen and brings with it a host of trying situations unique to this phase of life. While parents can’t be there to keep peer conflict from happening, they do have some control over parent-teen conflict. And improving parent-teen conflict, according to this study, may have the added bonus of improving teen conflict with peers.

So what can parents of teens do to bring down the conflict at home? Oftentimes, learning how to talk about tough (or even not so tough) topics in a different way can make an amazing difference. I know, I know. Teens are especially clever at knowing exactly which buttons to push to make your face turn purple and your voice raise an octave or two. If you’d like to, in turn, be clever by learning some new ways to defuse these situations and make them productive rather than meet them with conflict, I definitely recommend Faber and Mazlish’s book “How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk”. It’s chock full of different techniques and strategies that both parents and teens can use to increase respect and decrease conflict while helping teens become more responsible individuals. Enjoy! -Anita

Source: Chung GH, Flook L, & Fuligni AJ (2011). Reciprocal Associations Between Family and Peer Conflict in Adolescents’ Daily Lives. Child development PMID: 2179382

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Does your interactions with your teen at home affect their interactions with peers? According to this review of the research it does. Your teen will never let you know you have such an influence on them other than blame you for all the problems that exist in their lives but you do have an emotional impact, called a “spillover.”

Using Your E.A.R.S. to Help Children Problem-Solve

Someone once joked that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we talked. Not bad advice actually. Many parents would do well to heed that advice. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t talk to their children. It’s just that they shouldn’t be so quick to give advice or lecture of the right and wrongs of a problem. Listen first, then talk. Better yet, ask questions to get at the solutions to children’s problems. This causes them to feel as if they came up with the answer and take more ownership for the problem. E.A.R.S. is a helpful acronym for parents who want to improve their problem-solving skills with their children.

E = Elicit

The starting point for problem-solving with children is to elicit possible solutions that already exist in the child’s repertoire. Ask questions such as, “What would you think would make the situation better?” This implies that there is a solution and that the child has the ability to utilize it. If they don’t have an answer to this question, try this one: “What would your _______ (supply a relevant name here) say you are doing about the situation?”

This implies that the child is already solving his problem. The fact of the matter is that every response to a problem is a solution to a problem. Only some responses are better than others and have fewer severe consequences. The job of parents is to acknowledge children’s efforts and then direct them to use better responses.

If the child persists that there wasn’t anything good about what he did in the situation, then ask, “What was the part of the situation that was better than the other parts?” And if the child does recite some ‘better than other parts’ of the situation, ask, “How did you do that?” This encourages the child to learn from their own behaviors and increase positive responses.

If the child suffered severe consequences for his response to the situation, ask, “What did you learn from the situation?” Most successes are the result of trial and error and determining what doesn’t work.

A = Amplify

Amplify refers to the use of questions to get more details about any positive efforts toward problem-solving. Use who, what, where, when, and how questions. For example, “Who noticed you do that?” or “When did you decide to do that?” or “How did they respond to your solution?” Never use why questions. Why is a very judgemental word and will stop all attempts to help the child problem-solving because he feels bad about his efforts. Over time this can develop into a pattern of behavior where the child never tries anything new because he is afraid of failing. If he doesn’t try, he doesn’t fail. At least that is the rationale.

R = Reinforce

Years of behavioral change research have taught us that there are two ways to create change in others. Reward desired behaviors and ignore or mildly punish undesirable behavior. So be sure to reinforce any effort to solving a problem. Even failed attempts are worthy of acknowledgment. The child must want and value positive change. Reinforcement will be the motivating force for this value. Be sure, though, that you use verbal or social reinforcement. Don’t give in to bribes (candy, toys, and money) to reinforce the child. This will reinforce dependent and manipulative behavior and decrease independent problem-solution. The best reinforcers are a surprise. When children do not know when to expect a reinforcer (a compliment or public acknowledgment) they will be more motivated, ready for reinforcement at any moment in time.

S = Start again

Learning to problem-solving and listening to our children to help them, is a process. It can’t be done once and then left alone. It must be done over and over again. Repetition is a fundamental principle of learning. The more you do something the better you get at it. And now that the child has found a solution to a problem, plan for the next one. Most problems pop up again in life. Brainstorm solutions for the next time. And finally, treat every problem as an experiment where new and clever solutions can be tested. So use those two ears to listen more then you talk but when you do talk, ask solution-focused questions to help children problem-solve.